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Reds go online for votes, cash in on run-up to ‘young’ polls

Reds go online for votes, cash in on run-up to ‘young’ polls
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First Published: Wed, Mar 18 2009. 12 04 AM IST

New entry: A screen grab of CPM’s election-dedicated website.
New entry: A screen grab of CPM’s election-dedicated website.
Updated: Wed, Mar 18 2009. 12 04 AM IST
New Delhi: A constituent of the Left Front may well be the first political party to use the Internet the right way in the run-up to the general election.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist), or CPM, will not only have a dedicated election website, but have one that actually has a provision for mobilizing contributions.
The website, Vote.cpim.org, according to two party officials, is to be launched on Wednesday but was already live on Tuesday and is seen by analysts as the party’s counter to the Bharatiya Janata Party’s prime ministerial candidate L.K. Advani’s website launched in November last year and the digital marketing plans of the Congress. Still, it will be a first for the party.
New entry: A screen grab of CPM’s election-dedicated website.
Advani’s website Lkadvani.in is his own—aimed at bettering his chances of prime ministership—and his party has preferred to use the regular party website Bjp.org for its digital campaign. The Congress, too, plans to use its party website aicc.org.in for this purpose.
The digital efforts of political parties come in the run-up to an election where around 70% of India’s estimated 1.3 billion population is less than 35 years of age, many of them first-time voters. They also come at a time when urban India’s representation in the Lok Sabha has gone up following an effort to redraw constituencies on the basis of population density.
“The point is that the number of Internet users is still a very small proportion of our electorate. However, there is still a specific proportion that is net savvy and we should reach out to them. A campaign website is our way of expanding our propoganda,” said Sitaram Yechury, politburo member, CPM.
The predictably no-frills, red and white website, which will be launched by Yechury, has been designed exclusively for the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. “We will upload all election campaign-related material on the site. To begin with, it will have the party manifesto and election speeches. We will keep updating information about the campaign on the website. We plan to promote it (the website) through social networking websites,” said a CPM member associated with the website who did not want to be identified.
The site will have audio-visual content relating to rallies and speeches by party leaders. It will, the CPM member added, be interactive with a section devoted for suggestions and queries. However, it will not host any blogs.
“The Left and CPM often do not find adequate space in the mainstream media to communicate their views. Through a website especially dedicated to the April-May general election, we aim to break open into new spaces and communicate our ideas, especially to the youth. Another aim is to facilitate access of our state-level campaign to people across the country,” said the CPM member. The party plans to subsequently use the website to counter claims by its rivals.
With the Internet becoming a popular tool for poll-related publicity, all political parties are looking to exploit the medium to target the estimated 50 million net users in the country, bulk of whom belong to the younger age groups. “The Congress will use its existing website though several state units are doing a lot of work on the Internet. We even plan to start live webcast of our party press briefings and Sonia Gandhi’s election speeches in a week’s time. We have already started the test runs,” said a Congress leader who did not want to be identified.
Apart from its website, the Congress is on Twitter, a free social messaging utility.
However, analysts believe that political parties will be able to make only a limited appeal through the Internet.
“First of all, this entire campaigning on Web is driven by the fascination from the success of Obama’s net campaign. However, the difference is that in the US, the Internet is the primary tool for the youth which is not the case here. Two, political parties are used to television and print media as a medium where they only speak and don’t listen and even on the Internet, they seem to be focussing on such a one-way medium. Thus, while Internet is the way forward, political parties have to learn to engage with people more and listen to what they want,” said Rajesh Lalwani, founder, Blogworks, which provides strategic social media solutions to organizations.
Contrary to popular perception, the CPM has been at the forefront of using new technology such as the Internet for communication. It was among the first few political parties to computerize its office in 1989 and has always had a Web presence. Similarly, the CPM’s affiliates such as the Students Federation of India also have a widespread net presence and are active on social networking sites such as Orkut.
Still, the party opposed computerization of banks in the early 1980s, claiming that this would result in job losses.
Liz Mathew and Ullekh N.P. contributed to this story.
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First Published: Wed, Mar 18 2009. 12 04 AM IST